Last week, State Rep. Susan Herrera (D-Embudo) said during a Legislative Education Study Committee meeting, “Many special ed kids get together, and you know, get married and have children. And that’s really difficult… to respect and help that group of people,” which sparked outrage in the disability community. It was first reported on by KOAT 7 News, which reached out to state Rep. John Block (R-Alamogordo), who was in the meeting, for comment.
Block, who is the founder and editor of the Piñon Post, told the outlet, “When she said that, I kind of shook my head a little bit because I didn’t really understand where she was coming from in the vein that she was talking,” adding, “You’re talking about cell phones, and then she starts talking about how kids and individuals with special needs should not be getting married and are a problem in our society. That’s that’s a pretty big stretch. I don’t know how someone could go from one to the other, so I would definitely want some clarity.”
“We really rely and trust these representatives to make decisions in the best interest of the communities that they represent,” said Donyelle Lucero, President of the Rio Grande Down Syndrome Network, to the outlet. “A lot of people don’t really have a true understanding of individuals with special needs. They don’t know how to interact. They don’t always see them as equal.”
On Thursday, a constituent of Herrera called her after seeing the newscast where she appeared to disparage disabled people. Herrera not only refused to apologize but doubled down on the rhetoric, claiming Block was responsible, accusing him of taking the clip “out-of-context.”
The distressed constituent, who recorded the call with Herrera, reached out to Block on the condition of anonymity to convey her distress with Herrera’s refusal to apologize. The woman gave Block the recordings and allowed him to publish the Democrat’s words in recordings shared via X, formerly Twitter.
Herrera told the constituent, “This is something John Block does to all legislators. He takes something out of context, he blows it up, and he makes it appear what it — what is just isn’t true. If you know my voting record — and Liz Thomson would verify for me, legislators who work on Health and Human Services would verify that I always back special needs legislation or help [the] disabled or the handicapped in any way possible,” adding, “I think that’s my job. I have family members who are special needs kids. My sister adopted three special needs kids. She united them. They were in different orphanages. They have been a part of my life all my life, [Constituent’s Name]. And I have helped those kids (they’re adults now) all my life.”
When asked if she is “blaming John Block for all of this,” Herrera claimed, “No, well, I’m saying he took things out of perspective in that committee. I was talking specifically about one superintendent that I talked to, and I was worried because the special needs population was so high, and I was saying that these families really struggle. So, it’s our job as legislators to see how we can help them. So, he ignored all of that, and he took it out of context, and, yes, it sounds terrible. Was I saying that? No.”
“Well, what the news showed was that you were speaking about special needs people getting married and having kids,” the constituent responded.
“And I see nothing wrong with that. And I never said there was anything wrong with that. I said sometimes…. This is what the superintendent told me. He said, ‘You know, we have a lot of families here and they get married.’ I don’t have a problem with that. If you can find someone you love,” said Herrera, despite casting doubt on the numbers of disabled people in the referenced superintendent’s district.
Herrera then attacked KOAT 7 News, telling the woman, “They should have checked the story a little closer. They didn’t. But, you know, you don’t argue with the press [Constituent], because frankly, they get the last word. You know what I mean?”
The constituent told Herrera, “No, I don’t. I saw what you said,” before the line was disconnected.
Block then posted the full video, with the full context of Herrera’s comment on X, writing, “Watch her full remarks before and after her comment in committee at the end of the video, which completely blows a gaping hole in her attempt to defend the indefensible. Disgusting how she is doubling down.”
The Democrat could have immediately apologized for the insensitive remark, and the story could have gone away as an unfortunate choice of words that the elected official did not truly mean. Instead, Herrera doubled down, which has sparked a new wave of outrage by disability rights activists.
But that’s not all. On Friday, after Rep. Block posted the audio recordings, Herrera attacked disability rights activists angered by her comment, saying they took her comments “out of context, in an attempt to score political points.”
In the statement to KOAT 7, she again refused to apologize, telling the outlet, “My support and respect for individuals with disabilities is unwavering. I am disappointed that my comments during last week’s committee meeting were taken out of context, in an attempt to score political points. I regret that people misunderstood my remarks, which were intended to reflect how many families have been disrespected by the very systems that are meant to serve them. I will continue to be an advocate for families and individuals with disabilities in the legislature. My voting record speaks for itself.”
No legislative Democrat has come out to distance themselves from Herrera’s ableist comment or her tripling down on her bigoted comment, which continues to fester amid waves of criticism for the comment.